Millions more homes will be exposed to hurricane-force winds due to climate change

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Over the next 30 years, an additional 13.4 million properties in the contiguous U.S. are likely to experience destructive winds from tropical cyclones, according to a new report. It’s not a risk these properties typically faced in the past, but that’s changing as hurricanes get stronger and weirder due to climate change.

The shift could cost property owners billions of dollars in damages. This year, the US could see $18.5 billion in losses from hurricane-force winds, the report finds. Over 30 years, average annual losses add up to about $20 billion.

“This next generation of hurricane-force winds will bring inevitable financial ramifications and devastation not yet priced into the market,” said Matthew Eby, CEO of First Street Foundation, the nonprofit research organization that published the report, in a press release today.

“This next generation of hurricane-force winds will bring inevitable financial ramifications and devastation not yet priced into the market.”

First Street Foundation also introduced a new online tool that allows users to see how vulnerable a particular property is to hurricane-force winds now and in the next three decades. It contributes to First Street’s Risk Factor tool on its website, which already allows users to search addresses to generate reports on exposure to flood, fire and extreme heat. It’s a useful tool, especially considering that many flood maps are out of date and these types of climate-related risks are not often disclosed to homeowners and potential buyers.

The report is based on historical observations and a peer-reviewed wind model to assess future risks. First Street simulated more than 50,000 different storm tracks to determine likely wind speed and direction, adjusting for how the local landscape might speed up or slow down storms. It then zooms in on individual properties to evaluate how vulnerable they would be to hurricane-force winds.

Florida is most at risk, but not necessarily in places that are typically hardest hit by storms. Nearly all of the additional losses from hurricane-force winds hitting the mainland US over 30 years, about $1 billion in damage, are expected in Florida. Stronger storms and shifting hurricane paths could expose 4.1 million properties there to a Category 5 hurricane in 2053, compared to 2.5 million this year. And that could be a big problem for communities farther north that haven’t experienced as many storms in the past as places farther south.

The state is already more prone to storms because of the way it juts out into warm waters, coupled with a lot of development along its extensive coastlines. Florida’s southeast coast, where Miami has become something of a poster child for cities vulnerable to climate change, is often hit particularly hard by hurricanes making landfall. But in the future, storms will make landfall further north, near cities like Jacksonville.

Tropical storms draw power from heat energy on the sea surface and oceans are warming due to climate change. So it’s no wonder hurricanes are getting more intense. Along with storms making landfall further north than before, there is also evidence that storms retain more of their strength when they make landfall. So they hit new places that were previously out of reach.

That makes it all the more important to educate people about the types of dangers that may be heading their way in the future. Even minor storms can wreak havoc in places they weren’t expecting, and a little preparation can go a long way toward keeping people and their homes safe.

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